The application of scientific...
The application of scientific principles to racing has advanced the sport in many different ways, but the improvements in driver safety probably rank at the top among the most significant discoveries. Photo by Bob Bolles/Carolyn Woodard
What describes a person is directly related to the way he or she does things. In racing, we all think, act, and work in a way that meets the definition of "scientific research." That being said, we can be referred to as scientists. That is not a stretch of the imagination, just an honest evaluation of what we do.
No one ever said that in order to be a scientist you needed a college degree or, in fact, any education at all. Thomas Edison, one of America's greatest scientists and inventors, certainly did not possess a degree. Neither did Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell, or for that matter, our very own astute scientist, Smokey Yunick. A true scientist, with or without a degree, is one who does scientific research and finds answers to phenomena that has been observed.
Remember that many new race car parts and improvements of existing parts were born out of the desires of everyday racers to improve the racing package. If not for organized racing, we would not enjoy many of the advanced designs of suspensions and improved engine systems that are now incorporated into the modern passenger car.
Fuel injection, disc brakes, independent suspension systems, adjustable shock absorbers, power steering systems, and especially safety systems all benefited in their refinement from data accumulated through the process of racing. We are still learning how to improve the motor vehicle by observing and adapting to conditions encountered while racing.
The legendary Bill Simpson...
The legendary Bill Simpson is a typical example of a racing scientist. He has worked to improve fire safety for decades. Here, he demonstrates the testing of a new helmet design.
The so-called scientific method (SM) is a process used by scientists to study areas of our environment. Race cars are an object of interest to those on the race team, and we possess a strong desire to find ways to make our cars handle better and go faster.
Here is how we commonly define and apply the SM to racing. In most definitions, the scientific method involves the following five steps.
1. We observe and describe an occurrence or trend (e.g., "The driver states that the car is pushing in Turns 1 and 2.").
2. We further define the problem by discovering exactly what is happening. "The tight condition starts on turn entry and gets worse in the middle. The tire temperatures show an overworked right-front tire."
3. We then formulate several hypotheses or theories as to why this is happening. "The front geometry is designed poorly, the alignment is off, the front brakes may be gripping more than the rear brakes, or the car just might have too much crossweight."
4. We then perform a series of experiments to attempt to isolate the problem to one or more of the theories. We first check the location of the moment center, presence of Ackermann, bumpsteer, and excess camber change, and adjust as necessary. Then we proceed to realign the car, adjust the brake bias, and then adjust the crossweight percentage in that order.
At the '06 edition of the...
At the '06 edition of the Performance Racing Industry trade show, racers came to learn about new innovations. This is an annual gathering place for racing scientists to share new ideas and products. Here, Gene Coleman explains the benefits of an improved part design.
5. We then formulate a conclusion once we have experimented and isolated the actual source(s) of the problem. "Once we aligned the car, it was much better. We still worked on improving the other theories and found we could use some more rear brake bias, and we also found we were actually a little low on crossweight once we straightened out the alignment problem."
Does this sound familiar to you? Of course it does. We all go through this process continually, not only with our setups, but also with engine and driveline problems. We are acting and performing in exactly the same way as a scientist. While we may not really want to be known as scientists, we need to get over it and come to understand how significant our contributions are to the automotive community.
Sir Karl Popper was a philosopher of science who is said to have solved the puzzle of the scientific method. He made this statement, which can be applied to the racer or engineer who thinks he or she "knows it all": "The wrong view of science betrays itself in the craving to be right; for it is not his possession of knowledge, of irrefutable truth, that makes the man of science, but his persistent and recklessly critical quest for truth."
Patrick Henry Community College...
Patrick Henry Community College is a learning institution located in Martinsville, Virginia, where future racing scientists can learn all about the many technical aspects of race cars. This poster, on display in the school's workshop, depicts the relationship between the college and the community.
If you or the person who leads your team rejects scientific input and always insists on being right, you may have reached the limit of advancement in the development of the team. The most successful racers are always open to new ideas, no matter what the source. Winning teams search for truths and losing teams either search for what the winning teams have discovered or remain stagnant because they "already know it all."
In seeking the truth in racing science, we need to put aside our egos and understand that we can, and often will, be wrong in the search for a better race car. Not all theories will come across as improvements, but all experimentation teaches us something, even if it is only the fact that we should not go in a certain direction again.
The word failure should never be used to describe an experiment that does not produce the desired results. We succeed in increasing knowledge whatever the outcome of our experimentation.
Now that we know a little more about who we really are, let's take a look at how each of these areas of natural science is applied to our race cars.
This is a science in which we work with matter and energy and their interactions in the fields of mechanics. We are working with physics, for instance, every time we change gear ratios or the driveshaft alignment in our cars. We are changing the mechanical advantage of the engine in its relationship to accelerating the car. We follow the SM in determining the correct gear ratio for our car at a particular racetrack.
Designing new types of differentials...
Designing new types of differentials based on research and testing helps solve problems observed on the racetrack. The parts and pieces that make up a race car are in a constant state of evolution.
Physics is also applied when tuning our engine for maximum horsepower or optimizing the torque curve. We observe how quickly we accelerate down the straightaways and compare our times with the competition. If we are deficient, we work to make improvements.
Adjusting brake bias through a mechanical leverage system or by installing master cylinders with different diameters is a good example of using the laws of physics to adapt our race cars to the forces of deceleration.
Settings such as bumpsteer, roll steer, and Ackermann can ruin an otherwise great spring and moment center combination if they are not correct. We use various instruments, such as laser alignment tools, bumpsteer gauges, and computerized racing programs, to evaluate our suspension geometry.
This is a true depiction of...
This is a true depiction of the forces that act to influence the handling of our race cars. There are two forces present at midturn: gravity, which is always present, and a centrifugal force that the car feels as a pull toward the outside wall.These two forces combine, as defined in modern physics, into one resultant force whose direction and magnitude are determined by the values of the original two forces.
This is a branch of mechanical engineering in which we deal with forces and how they act on an object, or race car in our example, and how the object reacts to those forces. Our quest for higher performance must involve the study of dynamics and how our car is able to conform to the various forces it encounters lap after lap.
Our first goal is to set up the car so that it is properly aligned and dynamically balanced. As the longitudinal (when braking and accelerating) and lateral (occurring primarily at midturn) forces affect the car, we study how the car reacts so that we can minimize undesirable characteristics. These include excess dive on entry and squat on exit, dynamic camber change, and unequal and unpredictable weight distribution on the four tires.
We have tools we can use to study exactly what might be affecting our race car. These tools include tire temperature gauges, pressure gauges, tread depth gauges, shock travel indicators, and up to and including data acquisition. Of equal use are computer programs that tell us our moment center location and camber change characteristics as well as the dynamic balance of the car.
We are continually working to improve the dynamic condition of our race cars to make sure the four tires are working as hard as possible. Then we will be as fast as we can be relative to the limitations of tires, track surface conditions, and available horsepower.
The concept of matching the...
The concept of matching the front and rear roll angle desires is being taught around the world. This design criteria is as important for a Saturday night Stocker as it is for a Formula One car. It matters not the amount of cost involved in any particular type of racing-the goals are all the same.
Aerodynamics is a branch of racing dynamics that deals with the motion of air across the race car body and the pressures exerted on it while the car is in motion. We now know much more about how aero creates downforce. We use that knowledge to construct our cars so that we can take advantage of higher amounts of downforce to add load to the tires without adding weight to the car.
Stock cars often top 100 mph, even on the shortest racetracks. Even at the legal speed limit of 70 mph on the highway, we can stick our hand out of the window and feel the tremendous force of the rush of air. When we harness this force, we improve the way our cars grip the surface of the racetrack.
Thermodynamics is an area of physics that deals with the mechanical action or relations of heat. Smokey developed an extremely high degree of knowledge of thermodynamics and could converse with the best Ph.D.s around. He helped develop advanced methods and technology related to the internal combustion engine within a small and underfinanced shop in Daytona Beach, Florida. It was referred to as his "inner sanctum" because when he was on a quest, he became completely absorbed in the work. We may never find a better example of a racing scientist.
The racing engine, as I learned in my thermodynamics class, is merely a heat exchange device that converts heat into energy. The more efficiently we can cause this exchange, the more energy we can produce, which is measured in our engines as horsepower and torque. When we tune the spark advance timing or carburetor air/fuel ratio, we are refining the process of heat exchange.
We have defined how aero downforce...
We have defined how aero downforce works. With that knowledge, we can take advantage of the high-velocity flow of air around the car. Looking at the shape of the noses and other body parts racers use nowadays, we can see where racing scientists have been busy utilizing this information.
Electronic instruments, such...
Electronic instruments, such as this digital single-wheel scale, have revolutionized the sport of racing. This tool allows a spring change without accidentally changing the ride heights or wheel weights.
Brake parts companies search...
Brake parts companies search continually for new designs of brake calipers, pads, and rotors. The faster our cars go, the harder it is to stop them. We have been forced to take a scientific method approach to brake problem solving, and as a result, we now have much improved stopping power.
Outside the engine compartment, the brakes are heat generators, too. The brakes on our cars convert energy to heat to help stop the car. Excessive heat is not desirable and can cause the brakes to fail. The disc brake system was incorporated into many race car designs to overcome deficiencies in the older production drum brake systems.
Our most famous le scientifique...
Our most famous le scientifique de sports mcaniques, Smokey Yunick, wore a lot of different hats in his storied career. But I bet you wouldn't have guessed a cap and gown. His garage, which was located in Daytona Beach, Florida, is where he developed advanced technology that improved our understanding of the internal combustion engine.
Smokey had a long list of accomplishments and successes. Even with his relatively low budgets and simple tools, he made remarkable discoveries that any well financed institution or corporation would be proud of. Photo courtesy of the Smokey Yunick Collection
Along with that change, we have developed better compounds for use in our brake pads and improved rotor designs that endure high heat and wear and are designed to help vent heat away from the pads. Racers invented brake fluid cooling systems that recirculate and cool the fluid. Along the way, there has been further development to produce more heat-resistant brake fluids.
Tire performance involves heat, too. The tires benefit from heat so they can be more compliant to the racetrack. Without heat, the various internal compounds would not work to soften the rubber to help make the tire adhere to the track. So we read the heat in the tires and use that data to tell us how efficiently the tire is working. We make changes to the setup, geometry, and air pressures largely based on these tire heat readings.
Another branch of science deals with practical applications of a liquid in motion. Our race car has several hydraulic systems. Water flows to the engine through the water pump, then out to the radiator and back. Oil flows from the oil pan or reservoir to the bearings, pistons, valves, and so on, then through a cooler and back to the engine. Brake fluids also flow from the master cylinder to the slave cylinder, or brake calipers, and absorb heat and moisture, which affects that system.
A lot of research has taken place over the years to improve the cooling of our motors, the lubrication of the engine, and the efficiency and longevity of our brake systems. When we modify our radiators, develop Water Wetter (heat-reducing liquids that can be mixed with the coolant), or regulate the rate of flow of the coolant through the radiator and motor, we are experimenting in the field of science known as hydraulics.
The search for race car plumbing...
The search for race car plumbing includes designing parts that reduce weight and restrictions in the flow of liquids, such as this composite water pump. Whenever we try to improve the way the fluids work in our race cars, we are dealing with the science of hydraulics.
This is a science that deals with the composition, structure, and properties of substances and the transformations they undergo. Chemistry in racing? There is no way that racing involves chemistry-or does it? When racing parts manufacturers develop better alloys for aluminum parts, or improve brake pads, or invent materials that are more fire resistant to use in our driving suits, or for that matter, better tire treatments, the science of chemistry plays a large part in the process.
Brake companies are continually coming up with improved brake components, especially brake pads. Performance gains come as a direct result of altering the chemical makeup of the pad material based on the real needs of the racers. The composition of the pad and the overall process of manufacturing the brake pad component involves chemical process analysis.
Motor oils and oil additives have improved as a direct result of chemical research using new ingredients that provide better lubrication, which will reduce the heating and wearing of metal parts. Coatings are chemical treatments of metals that help make the moving parts in our engines, transmissions, and differentials produce less friction and heat. Once we reduce friction, we lessen the amount of the engine's horsepower needed to turn those parts, and more horsepower will be available at the rear wheels to accelerate the car.
Race companies use the science...
Race companies use the science of chemistry to formulate paints that show levels of heat. As the brake rotor becomes heated, the paint changes color at specific temperature thresholds.
Almost every team either owns their own dedicated computers or has access to computers. Teams use the computer for many different tasks that help improve their racing efforts. From message board participation on the Web to saving data on the setups, a team now has access to a world of knowledge and useful tools that were not available several years ago.
If I have a question, all I have to do is log on to one of the many World-Wide-Web message boards run by racing companies and racing enthusiasts, present my query, and then wait for someone to offer advice.
If I need to know more about a particular routine or piece of equipment, I can search the Web, which has thousands of links that will lead me to the information I need. I can download software or locate companies that sell computer software that will help me manage my team, simulate my setups, and help redesign my race car.
The Internet has elevated...
The Internet has elevated our level of knowledge in racing to the point that whatever we need to know is only a touch of a keyboard away. Probably 99.9 percent of all racing parts companies, racetracks, racing schools, publications (including www.circletrack.com), and sanctioning bodies have Web sites that you can visit free of charge to learn about anything and everything related to racing technology.
I can keep up with changes in the racing industry with my computer. That means finding out who is winning, where series will be racing, and which new parts are out. It also means accessing lists of racing technology schools and learning new and improved techniques for setting up my race car.
The Internet has opened up the world of racing as never before. The fact that it is almost instantaneous in the delivery of news and technology makes this medium a must-have for everyone who is involved in racing.
Maybe the greatest leap in technology we have experienced in motorsports is in the area of safety. Racers can now race more comfortably knowing their bodies can withstand the forces of an impact more efficiently. Motorsports science has helped us understand the nature of the forces and how we can protect the driver from the negative effects of those forces.
A lot of research went into the development of safer seats, better seatbelts and head-and-neck restraints, safer barriers, more fire-resistant suits and accessories, and so forth. The list goes on, but we all can agree that our sport is much safer today than ever before thanks to the motorsports scientist.
Our innovations and advancements...
Our innovations and advancements in the area of safety could be our most successful scientific endeavor related to racing. The survival of horrific impacts such as this is a testament to the success of racing science. This driver wore a head-and-neck restraint device that only recently became available. Photo by Randy Ellen
By now, you should have come to the conclusion that what we do and how we do it, not to mention the level of success we have demonstrated over the years in our discoveries, makes us, by deed and definition, scientists. Racers have done as much good with fewer resources as any other research group probably in the history of mankind.
And the one reason we have been so successful is that racers are not bound by restrictions or self-imposed guidelines. Research organizations born out of the higher education system can be stifling as to how individuals are allowed to proceed in their research. Racers know no such boundaries.
Competition is the catalyst that breeds success. We are all driven by an intense desire to improve our product, and the sheer numbers of researchers in racing means that this whole endeavor involving the science of racing moves at a quick pace and delivers results that formal scientists would find very impressive.
To find the most successful scientists on earth, we need only look at the everyday racer and realize it is he or she who really performs, academic degree or not. The many other dedicated scientists in our society would do well to study the work habits and accomplishments of the men and women who race.